A Man of the Mountain – The Light of the Morning

Below is the latest chapter from A Man of the Mountain, the prequel to my first novel, Whiteout, which just released. It tells the story of a man who just wants to keep the Bigfoot legend alive and the monster hunters who want to stop him.

For those who want to read Whiteout, it’s out now on all platforms and currently holds a 4.5/5 on GoodReads with 22 reviews in so far! Order below and share my work if you like it! It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited members!

Order Here

OK, end plug, here’s the story

Need to catch up on Man of the Mountain? Links to Chapter 1 2,   3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9

11. The Light of the Morning

A light chill had crept into the air as Shirley and Nick arrived at the forestry center. Bright sunlight filtered through the trees, cutting radiant beams in the early-morning fog. Sets, cameras, and lights had all been broken down and strapped to a series of interns who looked more overburdened than yaks in the Himalayas. With their backs bent, they looked to be regretting their summer employment decisions. All told, there were about twenty people ready to head up the mountain. To both Nick and Shirley’s dismay, there was no sight of Mansen.

“That prick better show up,” stuttered Nick, halfway through a gulp from his ‘water’ bottle.

“Should you really be drinking right now?” Shirley’s eyes watered as she caught a brief whiff of whatever was inside the container.

“If the beast is what I think it is, I’m going to want to be good and buzzed when we find it.” He cocked an eye at Shirley, and then apologetically offered, “You want some?” He held the bottle out to her.

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

Nick looked at her, very confused. “Ever?”

“Ever.” Shirley had spent years trying to avoid the specter of alcoholism that came with depression and had so far been very successful. She might have been the only dry member of the Local Eye staff.

“Suit yourself.” Nick shook the confusion off and fished around in his bag. Eventually, he pulled out a pistol that could only be described as dainty. “You ever use one of these?”

Shirley couldn’t help but laugh at him. “No.”

“Well, it’s quite—”

`    Shirley lifted the corner of her jacket, unclipped the holster at her side and drew a significantly larger handgun. “If you pulled that on a bear, it might laugh you to death.”

Nick held the pistol limply, trying not to look too envious.

“This,” she pointed the pistol at the ground, looking down the iron sights, “would stop anything in its tracks.”

Nick reddened. “Bet it doesn’t have holy water in it,” he mumbled.

“Do bears care about holy water?”

“Ah piss off anyway,” he grumbled. “Where is Mansen?” He straightened, looking for a target of ridicule that wasn’t himself.

The cast and crew milled about, trying not to garner Nick’s attention. It seemed that word of what happened to the last production assistant that crossed him traveled fast.

Nick looked as though he might sprint and throttle one of them again, but luckily, Mansen appeared just in time.

He might as well have walked straight out of a camping store commercial. While the equipment was clearly brand new, it had been made up to look scuffed and worn. The signs were clear to Shirley, but on camera, they would be hardly noticeable. If there was one thing Mansen was good at, it was presentation.

He strode to the middle of the campground, motioning for a camera to follow him as he did. “Alright, thanks to everyone who stuck around. This is without a doubt going to be one of the most dangerous shoots we’ve ever been on.” He looked the camera dead in the lens cementing the fact. “There have been some accusations that we aren’t brave enough to go after the beast, or that our entire operation is a fraud.” He waved a hand flippantly in Nick’s direction. “Today we prove these rumors to be nothing but a pack of lies.”

As Mansen droned on, Nick turned to Shirley. “You have to admit, he’s good in front of a camera.”

Shirley shrugged. “I guess if we run into a TV exec up there pretending to be Bigfoot, we’ll be in good hands.”

An eternity later, Mansen’s speech ended, and it was time for the real work to commence. His booming bravado didn’t stop for a second. “Let’s get moving, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover today.” He sounded and looked like a 1900s explorer leading a group of adventurers into the bush. It was the all khaki everywhere that sold the image.

In the distance, storm clouds were building, and Shirley made a note to keep an eye on them. She was always prepared and had packed for the worst of weather, but the rest of the team looked like they could handle a flake or two at the most. Forecasts in Clearwater were notorious for changing at a moment’s notice. The weatherman always said it was due to the mountain range masking the patterns, but most of the town figured it was his drinking. At the forestry center, the temperature was already at zero. It would warm throughout the day, but come evening, they might be in trouble.  “Those storm clouds could be an issue.” She pointed them out to Nick.

He looked up at them with a sense of unease. “Think we can handle them?”

“I think we can ride them out if we have to, but if we get caught in a storm, sitting in a tent is about all we’re going to accomplish until it passes.”

Nick tapped a flask at his side. “Good thing I brought this then.”

“Is there anything you solve without drinking?”

Nick scratched his chin, as if preparing to answer and then turned his attention to Mansen instead. He walked just close enough to be sure that one of the main sound technicians would capture him. “Better get moving if you want to beat that storm.” Immediately, two interns who had been shooting b-roll pointed their cameras skyward to capture the impending threat.

Mansen scowled. “What’s the matter? Afraid of a light dusting?”

Nick looked back at the clouds. Even he knew they were much darker than a light dusting, but if Mansen was going, he was going. “If our fearless leader thinks we can make it, then I’ve got all the faith in the world.” Nick cocked a ridiculous smile at the nearest camera and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Mansen practically growled at the idea of sharing his camera time. “Let’s not lose this daylight,” he shouted. The crew chugged into motion like an old locomotive and started up the trail.

Shirley hustled to catch up to the front of the line, not wanting to miss any of the action, but Nick held her back. “Easy there,” he said, slowing her pace until they were being passed by even the slowest crew members. He waited until every one of them had filed onto the trail and then fell into step at the end of the line.

“I would have thought you’d be in a dick swinging contest to lead the group,” she mocked in genuine surprise.

Nick smiled. “Oh, I never travel at the front of the line. All that stuff in movies about stragglers getting picked off is just propaganda to inspire courage.” He whistled. “Yup, if there’s a beast up there, I want to make sure Mansen runs into it first. Besides, we’ll have a better chance of finding sign back here if we’re not being hassled by all of those god-damned interns.” He said the last line loudly and with venom. One of the young men carrying sound equipment just ahead of them flinched. Nick laughed, “Too easy.”

What was initially excited chatter from the crew about finally doing something real was quickly extinguished by the exhaustion that came from carrying an entire film set uphill. The lower trails of Clearwater Mountain were easy enough, but getting anywhere near the summit even with minimal gear was an exhausting task. Accomplished mountaineers would have laughed at the sweat and toil of the crew, but to them, it might as well have been Everest.

As the group crested a particularly steep set of switchbacks, Nick stopped off to the side of the trail, panting. He set his pack down. The line continued to move ahead, taking no notice.

“What’s a matter, tired?” Asked Shirley.

Nick bent down, ignoring her and examined something clinging to the bark of a tree. How he had seen it was a mystery. From a distance, it looked like any other moss or lichen, and for a moment Shirley thought he was simply stalling for a reason to catch his breath.

“That’s very interesting,” he murmured, reaching into his bag and pulling out a large leather-bound book.

“No wonder you’re exhausted. What on earth possessed you to bring that?”

“Possession had nothing to do with it.” He flipped through the pages. Eventually, he reached one with a sketch of a tall ape-like creature easily recognizable as sasquatch. He skimmed the lines with his finger, holding the moss next to the book for identification. “Are there any native tribes in the area?”

Shirley scuffed her shoes in the dirt. “Not anymore. Townsfolk drove them out years ago.”

“Drove them out?” asked Nick, pushing the small sample into a plastic-lined pocket of his backpack and snapping the book shut.

“Clearwater wasn’t exactly hospitable.”

“Oh good.” Nick shouldered his pack. “So, I suppose the hope of a cultural center would be folly.”

“We’ve got one about logging.”

“Wonderful, if we have to deal with a chainsaw-wielding spirt, we’ll be in luck.” Nick picked up the pace and hustled to catch the back of the line once more. It wasn’t hard at the languid pace they were making.

Shirley walked beside him. “What was that you found?”

“We are meant to believe it’s fur.” His voice grew distant.

“Meant to believe?”

“I haven’t ruled out the genuine article yet, but I see no reason that clump would have gotten stuck on that tree. It’s far too obvious. I think we were meant to find it.”

Shirley thought the sample would have been difficult to notice by anyone who hadn’t been paying the closest attention. “Why would anyone want to leave a fake sample?”

“Fame, glory, make the History Channel look like an idiot after the episode is released.” Nick sounded as if he were relishing the option. “Sounds like something I might do. If I had my analysis kit with me, we could find out for sure, but,” he motioned to the bag on his back with a slight groan, “as you said, too much weight.” Nick readjusted his pack and let out a long sigh. “I really thought we might find a sasquatch up here, but looks like it might just be another pretender.”

Shirley felt an all-too-familiar unhappiness rising inside her. “These attacks are very real,” she snapped, immediately regretting the tone. “Sorry.”

If Nick had taken offense, he didn’t show it. “I have no doubt about that, I’ve seen the photos.” Nick stopped to examine Shirley for a second. “Who did you know that was killed?” He crossed his arms.

“I’m sorry?”

“Mother, brother, father, sister, lover? Which was it?” Nick watched her expression closely with each suggestion.

At even the mention of it, Shirley felt a tingling begin at the back of her spine. Aw shit. Without warning, it felt like someone had gripped her chest in a vice. Pain lanced up her right arm. With numb fingers, she pulled out the small orange bottle she kept in her pocket and put one of the pills under her tongue. She could feel the forest closing in around her and struggled to stay on her feet. It’s not a heart attack. It’s not a heart attack. It’s not a heart attack. Slowly, she sunk to one knee, trying to keep her breathing in check.

Around her, the sounds of the forest disappeared, replaced with the frantic beating of her heart, and a thousand shouting voices telling her that she was about to die. Ever since the incident, Shirley had been unable to cope with even the mention of it. Her panic attacks had become less frequent, but that was mostly due to her avoidance of the subject. Most people in town knew what had happened, or thought she was a lunatic and never spoke to her.

Nick dropped the all-knowing act immediately and knelt next to her. “Are you alright?” Genuine concern had crept into his voice.

Shirley tried to speak but could only manage a stammer. Eventually she said, “She was very close to me. I don’t talk about it.” That was it. Even saying the words caused the crime scene images to play before her like an old film reel. The trees had been covered in her, and there had just been so much blood. STOP! she thought, loudly, and the memories began to quiet.

“I’m sorry.” The words came out like he had never said them before. “You should have told me this was personal. I just thought you were insane.”

Shirley laughed. “Well, you weren’t wrong.”

Nick helped pull her to her feet, and they rejoined the back of the line once more.

After a while, Shirley felt her heart rate slow, and was back in her daily rhythm. When she had caught her breath, she resumed the conversation. “What else could possibly be doing this?”

“A lot of things when you think about it. Victims have been decapitated, slashed, mauled, you name it. The only consistency is the brutality.” Nick winced, remembering the sensitivity of the situation, but did not apologize.

Shirley didn’t mind. She preferred brutal honesty to people walking on egg shells around her. “And the presence of four claws,” she reminded him. The thought brought a slight grimace to her face.

“Right, and the claw marks. It certainly does fit the bill of a territorial dispute, but without any knowledge from the people that were here first, we have no way of knowing. Sasquatch will stay in one region their entire life, which can be hundreds of years. That’s why there are so few of them left. Even when pioneers came with muskets, torches and colonization, the sasquatch stayed in the same spot, choosing to fight and die rather than leave.” There was a low melancholy respect for the beast in his words.

A light snow began to fall around them.

“Well this is sooner than expected,” said Nick, sticking his tongue out cheerily.

Shirley looked up at the clouds, dismayed. “That’s not good. If the storm is moving that quickly, it’s going to be a big one.”

“Something our pal up front should know about?”

Shirley groaned. “Probably.”

“Well then, let’s pay him a visit.”

Mansen was slick with sweat despite the cold and barking at anybody who bothered to distract him from the monumental task of putting one foot in front of the other. Cameramen buzzed around him like flies, no doubt shooting footage that would later be cut to preserve Mansen’s pristine reputation. Next to him was a young woman with a map, looking far less exhausted, and far more excited.

“How much farther?” he panted at her.

“We should be about halfway to the falls by now.”

The trails were still clear, but on the sides, they began to see piles of snow from the last storm. The farther up they got, the more snowpack there would be, and the harder the hike was going to get. Unfortunately, the trails also got steeper just before the falls.

“Halfway?” Mansen sounded defeated.

“Well, it’s about to get a lot harder if this storm keeps up,” said Nick jovially, jogging to the front of the line.

“Jesus Christ, why are you here?”

“I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell you, Mansen, I might be better than you, but I am not the son of—”

“Shut it. I don’t have time for your childish games today.”

A cameraman moved up close beside them, wanting to capture the confrontation.

“Well, you see,” started Nick, and then Shirley cut in.

“At the rate this storm is moving, we’re going to be stuck in a full-on blizzard by nightfall.”

“Well it’s a good thing we brought all this gear then,” huffed Mansen.

Shirley scowled. “I don’t think you understand. Most people would turn back—”

Mansen let out a superior laugh, cold and high, echoing off the trees around them. “Clearly you’ve never operated on a schedule Ms. Codwell. I don’t suspect the tabloid enforces them.”

Shirley balled her fist up, ready to strike him. The cameraman zoomed to it.

“No, we are not turning around, we are nearly there. If it’s going to snow, then we’ll find the beast in a whiteout. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. Now, kindly fuck off to somewhere that isn’t next to me.”

Shirley was ready to argue more, but Nick pulled her back. Together they waited for the line to pass and once more began to bring up the rear.

“So, we’ve got what we need to survive the storm?” asked Nick, looking for reassurance.

“Yes, but it won’t be comfortable. Do we have what we need to survive whatever is out there?”

Nick began counting his fingers and mumbling something about holy powder.

“Nick?”

He looked up as if completely forgetting the question.

“Can we survive it?”

“Probably!” He exclaimed. “Better odds than I have most of the time anyway.” He rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Oh, this is going to be fun. I love camping.”


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A Man of the Mountain – The Spiral

Below is the latest chapter from A Man of the Mountain, the prequel to my first novel, Whiteout, which just released. It tells the story of a man who just wants to keep the Bigfoot legend alive and the monster hunters who want to stop him.

For those who want to read Whiteout, it’s out now on all platforms and currently holds a 4.5/5 on GoodReads with 22 reviews in so far! Order below and share my work if you like it! It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited members!

Order Here

OK, end plug, here’s the story

Need to catch up on Man of the Mountain? Links to Chapter 1 2,   3, 4, 5, 6, 7,

9. The Spiral

The hike down the mountain had taken hours, but the return trip passed by in a series of blurs. Miles were gone in seconds, and half the time, Jonas barely felt in control of his own feet. A red tint had come over his world, casting everything in dim light. He tried to keep up the guise of being just another hiker on the trail, but with each passing minute, it became more difficult. Primal instincts surged just behind his eyes, telling him to run, slash, and hunt down those who threatened him. He thought of Mansen’s smug face and had to stifle a howl.

Going down there was a mistake. I left town for a reason. Hearing Mansen debunked so flippantly felt like a bullet to the chest. Hell, maybe a bullet would have been easier. In less than five minutes, the man who had been his idol had been brought lower than low. Had Mansen been accused by anyone else, Jonas might have been able to deny it, but not Shirley. Hearing her frustration with the man made it all the worse. Not only was Mansen making a mockery of the legend, he was disrespecting the only people willing to tell the truth.

Jonas’s body was a raging furnace, each breath feeling like the vent of a volcanic fissure. Hardly noticing, he stepped off the main trail and onto the paths only he knew. His legs were numb and mechanical, continuing to move without any real effort. After a mile or so, nearly to the cabin, he checked his surroundings to ensure there were no cameras, and no curious hikers. Satisfied, he let out a roar of rage and anguish, and fell to his knees. He beat his hands into the melting snow until he reached the forest floor. The impact of his fists on the soft earth beneath felt righteous. He smashed and pounded until his blood poured from his knuckles and his joints were swollen. Tears ran down his cheeks, carving clean lines in the dirt.

The television special was supposed to bring renown and grounding to the legend, but instead, it would become a joke. Mansen was supposed to be a member of a secret society, not the laughing stock of it. Eventually, Jonas’s adrenaline waned and weary exhaustion flooded his limbs. Lances of pain shot through his beaten hands. Through his anger for Mansen, he began to see images of Nick Ventner. It was a silver lining through the haze of pain, anger, and fatigue. Mansen might not be the hunter Jonas needed to face, but Nick might be. Jonas had seen the pistol concealed on Nick’s right hip and how he had casually dropped his hand to it when approached. If nothing else, he knew about the legend, and had some training.

The thought gave him the will to stand. Jonas pushed himself to his feet wincing with every ounce of pressure on his hands. That was a dumb thing to do. He looked at his bruised knuckles, blood oozing from the places he had beaten raw. There’s still so much work to be done. Jonas walked to a snowbank and shoved his hands into it. Icy tendrils of beautiful, numbing pain worked their way through him. The mountain provided, and he would provide for it. The legend wasn’t going to die, it was going to grow.

I have been given a gift, he reasoned. In the end, Rick was going to be a far easier kill than previously anticipated. There was still the issue of getting past his crew, but Jonas hardly spared them a thought. The real challenge was going to be taking down Nick. Two high profile kills in one day. Even if he died and was exposed, he would go down as the man who was dedicated to the legend above all else. Who knows? Maybe Shirley will write about it.

When his hands were sufficiently numb, Jonas removed them. The air might have been cold, but it felt like the breath of a dragon. His fingers thawed, and steam rose off them into the chilled air. With each passing moment, he felt righteous purpose building. There was still work to be done, and glory to be had. A fight was coming whether Mansen deserved it or not. One way or another, the legend would be made in a few days’ time.

Reinvigorated, Jonas trudged back in the direction of the cabin. As he approached it, he immediately noticed a package far larger than the usual drop. His employers had always stuck to the routine, and anything that broke it was suspicious. With some trepidation, he approached the parcel and tried to pick it up. He managed, but it was far heavier than what he was used to. He half carried, half dragged the box into the entryway of the cabin and shut the door behind him. He unclipped the knife from his belt and sliced through the tape to open it.

The first thing he noticed was a large sheet of yellow paper with a note scrawled on it. Welcome to the big leagues, kid. Sounds like Mansen is going to be coming up the mountain soon. You know what to do. Hopefully these gifts will help you level the playing field.

     Cheers, Management.

P.S. Good to see you getting into town a little bit. I hope you will take the liberty again in one year’s time. Until then, stay on the mountain, there’s work to do.

Any trepidation he had felt evaporated. The note cemented exactly what it was he needed to do. Clearly his employers also knew there was going to be a fight, and if this wasn’t tacit approval, he didn’t know what was. Unable to contain his excitement, Jonas began pulling out the contents of the box one-by-one. Christmas had come early.

It was an entirely new set of gear. The suit he pulled out was far thicker and appeared to have a layer of Kevlar beneath it. It was the closest thing to bullet-proof he was going to get. Next, there was a set of claws made to look like bone. Silver glinted beneath the ivory white curves of each nail. Shining razor edges had been embedded beneath them. It was light and allowed for more movement than the older model. The rest of the gear followed suit with higher functionality and theming than the suit he had previously worn. The final addition nearly took his breath away.

At the very bottom of the box was a full headpiece. It had been molded to sport a long, pronounced, forehead, overgrown with fur, followed by deep-set eyes and a mean jaw. The effect was so lifelike that it looked as though it could have been severed from the actual shoulders of a sasquatch. Jonas held it in his hands with great care and lowered it onto his head. Initially, there was pitch black inside, but after a few seconds, screens illuminated where the eyeholes would have been. The dark interior of his cabin lit up in shades of red and blue.

Jonas raised a hand in front of him and marveled at the white-hot center, fading to red around the edges. A wave of deep gratitude swept over him. No one had ever given him such a gift. The playing field hadn’t just been leveled, it had been flipped. Mansen isn’t going to stand a chance…


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Whiteout Prologue

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What follows is the prologue to my first novel, Whiteout, now available for purchase on Amazon as well as other online retailers! If you like what you read, order a copy on Kindle, Paperback, or Hardback, and add us on GoodReads! Every share, add, and pre-order helps us get this story out there. Thanks for your support, enjoy.


Whiteout

“So you want to know about the yeti?” said Nick, savoring the look of surprise on the man’s face.

“Yes,” answered Winston, the portly man sitting opposite him. Clearly he thought there was going to be some sort of conversational foreplay before they came to that topic. Nick had never been one for small talk, and in the years since he had been back, the yeti seemed to be the only thing that interested people anymore. It also garnered the unexpected perk of free drinks, which he didn’t mind.

“And why exactly is that?” Nick asked.

“The subject is fascinating,” Winston breathed excitedly. “From the moment I first heard the rumors, I knew that I would have to get the real story from the source.” He leaned forward expectantly, causing the buttons of his freshly pressed shirt to strain from the size of his girth.

Nick Ventner thought Winston looked more prepared to attend the opera than swap stories with a monster hunter. With his neatly trimmed moustache and patiently combed-over white hair, Nick doubted that he had so much as encountered a gremlin, let alone anything of substance.

Just what exactly do you want with a yeti anyway? There’s nothing to be gained on that mountain apart from frostbite and blood.

Nick’s concentration was broken by the appearance of an austere butler carrying a tray with a cup of steaming tea. Winston thanked the man and took the cup. Before Nick had time to ask for anything, the butler slipped away.

“Sprightly man, isn’t he?”

“Yes, quite,” mused Winston, taking a sip of his tea.

“Don’t suppose he does drinks?” Nick raised his eyebrows hopefully.

“Oh, yes, of course he does.”

Silence fell as Nick waited for an offer that never came. He grimaced at the hideous odor wafting from Winston’s tea. Smells like llama piss and probably cost more than he paid to find me.

Winston watched Nick intently, like a toad hunting a juicy fly. “Well, then, will you tell me the story?”

“It’s a long and ugly one …” Nick looked around for the butler, who remained absent.

“Yes, of course. So you’ll tell it?” Winston’s eyes looked eager, like a child expecting to receive sweets.

“Are you a climber?” Nick asked, moving the subject away from the yeti. “I saw a few pieces of climbing gear on the way in.”

“Well, I dabble, but never anything …”

Nick stopped listening. You look like you have trouble climbing out of bed, much less anything that even closely resembles a mountain. I bet you’ve never even been above 15,000 feet outside of an airplane. Nick found himself staring at Winston’s gut once more, wondering how long it would be before his shirt gave way like a bursting dam. The thought caused him to shudder.

Winston continued to talk despite the glazed look in Nick’s eyes. “But Kilimanjaro really isn’t that difficult if you’ve got the proper guide.”

The conversation settled once more into awkward silence as the man waited for Nick to respond. “Oh, yes, and you must watch out for the hominids up there as well; quite dangerous when they get into a pack.” Nick allowed his mind to drift to the many decorations plastered on the walls.

Every inch of the mansion they sat in agitated Nick in some way. The armchairs were too plush, artifacts from different cultures were spread around the room in a fashion that had no discernable pattern, and above all, the man was lazy, circuitous, and rich. Even the winding lane leading up to the ornate doors had been adorned with artifacts so culturally at odds with the place that Nick thought they were more apt to start a holy war than be considered tasteful. In a different time, Nick might have idolized his wealth, but recently he had been searching for more in life.

“Well, the hominids didn’t really trouble us much—”

Nick grew frustrated with the lack of proffered drink and cut him off. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I was told that you were interested in hiring me, but if the yeti story is all you want, then I’m out of here.” Nick stood up from his chair and turned to go.

There’s just no room for respectable monster hunters anymore. They all just want the spectacle.

“I can pay you,” said Winston, stopping Nick in his tracks.

Nick may not have wanted to be rich, but his pockets were a tad light, trending toward empty, and the pub around the corner was not cheap. He looked back at the man’s face. A wave of familiarity struck him, but just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.

“Five thousand for the story,” said Winston, “beginning to end. I won’t publish it, I won’t record it. I just want to hear it.” The man sat back in his chair, hands folded across his lap. An expression of victory quickly spread across his smug face.

“Five thousand for a story? You must be some kind of bored.” Nick lowered himself back into the chair.

“I’ve heard the tale secondhand so many times that it seems foolish not to hear it from the man himself. I have complex interests, Mr. Ventner, and you have piqued them.”

Complex interests? Complex carbs, maybe. Your interests are provincial at best. The only real complexity Nick could see about the man was the series of bands that miraculously kept his clothes attached to his body. A little spectacle never hurt anyone. Ah, he would have wanted it anyway. Fortune and glory, remember?

“Well, your money has piqued my interests, but there’s one final condition.”

“What is that?” Winston asked eagerly.

“I’m going to need that drink.”


 

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Next Chapter

Death Co – The First Day

The First Day

John wasn’t always so cavalier about death. In fact, before he had crossed over, the concept had filled him with dread and terror. Even after undergoing the painful process of his own demise, talking about it still sent shivers up and down his slowly rotting spine. When he joined Death Co., he was given very little information, as is customary for trainees and new arrivals. The higher ups thought of it like a rite of passage. So, when John heard his name called that first day, he had no idea what to expect.

“Alright everyone, we’ve got a car crash, at least 14 dead on the scene. I’m going to need five agents, and make sure you take the new kid with you!” shouted a man in a pressed suit that had been glued over his sagging corpse to make it appear presentable. This was a common tactic for remaining stylish among the freshly deceased. John found it difficult not to stare, but also felt rude, so he focused on the flickering fluorescent lights above instead.

He had been post-mortem for about twenty-three hours, and at his assigned desk for fifteen minutes. The visions of his death were still fresh in his rotting brain, and the side effects of decomposition had not been entirely staved. Most of the time, requisition agents can halt the decomposition process before it goes on too long, but John died on a busy night…

When the man in the oddly pressed suit shouted, “new guy”, John froze, unable to think about the idea of taking another’s soul as his was so freshly departed. Luckily, the man, aptly named Barker shouted at him once more.

“Get up! Every second we stand here is another that those poor souls have to sit down there, caked in their own shit!” Half of Barker’s mustache had been burned off in the accident that killed him, and in moments of fury the half that remained, quivered, threatening to fall off entirely.

Charging through his hesitation, John jumped out of his seat and followed a group of agents that had stood up. They all moved slowly down the hallway to a room lined with rows of shiny metal cylinders on each side stretching on for what looked like miles. At the time, John had no idea what a wreck that required five agents met. He hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of the seventeen-thousand-page employee handbook that had been dropped on his desk.

The woman in front of him pressed one of her hands to a metal cylinder and it slid open with a violent hiss. Inside was upholstery that was either dark red, or heavily stained. John didn’t have enough time to find out, because the cylinder snapped shut and there was a boom like cannon fire from within. For a moment, he just stared, and then the boom of another cylinder firing made him jump. His skin slid up and down across his muscles unsettlingly.

“I’m sorry new guy, did no one tell you what to do next?” It was Barker, speaking in an uncharacteristically saccharine tone. He moved briskly over to one of the pods that had just fired, and motioned for John to follow. “Oh come on now, don’t be shy,” he smiled. The bit of mustache on his upper lip shook slightly.

John stepped forward and before he could do anything, Barker had grabbed his hand and slammed it onto the surprisingly hot metal. The container snapped open once more, and Barker shoved him in. “Best to hold your breath,” he instructed, and then added, “and don’t look down.” He laughed madly and gave John a sarcastic wave as the cover closed, blocking him from view.

Almost immediately there was a hiss as pressurized gas filled the cylinder. It smelled vaguely of formaldehyde and burnt toast. In truth, the dead had no need to breathe, but they did it anyway to maintain a sense of normalcy. In that moment, John wished he had listened to Barker. As he went to disobey Barker’s second command and look down, there was a deafening bang. The floor dropped out beneath him, revealing an endless swath of clouds flanked by bright stars. It was the border to the mortal realm. The boom had been the sound of John’s unearthly essence being catapulted at terminal velocity downward.

John tried to make his body straight to ease the decent, but he couldn’t help it, the situation was terrifying. His limbs flew out at all angles and he screamed bloody murder. He saw a few of the other agents laughing at him, but fortunately, the drop didn’t last long. A sickening thud cut off his decent and the world went momentarily black. For a minute or so, John was sure he had died again. Luckily, thanks to the miracle of divine science, he was uninjured. Later he would find out that the gas he had been sprayed was a mixture of pain meds and rubberizing material.

Upon realizing that he had not sustained any major injuries, other than his pride, John stood and found himself in the middle of a busy highway. At first, he flinched, but then realized that nothing was moving. On all sides, he was surrounded by cars, trucks, and motorbikes filled with people going about their daily lives, but for the moment, all that had stopped. He spun around wildly, looking at the unearthly snapshot of everyday life, and stopped when he saw the bus.

The destruction was unlike anything he had ever seen. During life, John had only had to deal with the ugly parts of the day in a courtroom. That usually meant photographs or an eye witness testimony. Nothing compared to seeing the real thing. Had he not known that scene in front of him was undoubtedly fatal, John would have been in absolute awe. In fact, a part of him still was.

A semi-truck spewed silent flames from a ruptured gas tank into the sky above. Shrapnel and concrete hung mid-air from where a mini-van had jumped the barrier into oncoming traffic, trying to avoid the accident. A woman was driving, her face frozen in terror, long hair flying all about the cabin.

“Don’t worry,” said a voice from behind John. “She makes it.” It was the young woman who had gotten in the cylinder before him.

“How do you know?” asked John, still dumbfounded.

She held up a clipboard and tapped it. “Did you forget your requisition sheet?” John was about to ask what a requisition sheet was, but she just rolled her eyes and walked over to show him hers. “There’s a slot by your desk, one of these pops out every time we get an order. It tells us the souls we’re meant to collect…” she stopped suddenly as her left eyeball fell onto the clipboard and bounced to the ground.

John made an involuntary wince as she bent over to pick it up.

“Oh, don’t be a prick about it,” she snapped, and popped the eyeball back into place. It rolled unsettlingly in its socket and then settled facing forward. “I’m going to have words with one of the stitchers when I get back up there. This damned thing won’t stay in.”

John gulped.

“Hey, not all of us are so lucky,” she motioned to his decomposing body.

He certainly didn’t feel lucky. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“It’s alright, I’m sure you’re a bit overwhelmed. Name’s Naomi, just try not to get emotional about it all. They,” she pointed at the accident, “are already emotional as hell.”

John remained silent, at a complete loss for how to even begin.

Naomi looked at her clipboard and surveyed the crash site. At the center of the wreckage was a school bus filled with missionaries. “Anyways, Tough break for your first day. Lucky they didn’t give you the kids,” she chuckled. Let’s see, you’ve got Father Bryan.”

“A priest?”

“Judging by the rosary, yup.” She pointed a crooked finger at a man who was halfway through catapulting out the school bus’s main window. A bible hung inches in front of his face, as if taunting him. “Always thought it was weird that buses didn’t require seatbelts,” Naomi remarked, and then set off towards the bus. “Good luck with yours,” she called.

John turned back to the scene unsure of what he was supposed to do, but before he could ask questions, time started suddenly forward once more. The priest took flight and collided with the side of the semi-truck, exploding in a most spectacular fashion. There was a terrible grinding and crashing as the rest of the accident took place, and then time stopped once more.

The priest’s crumpled and broken body blurred suddenly, and then he stood up, leaving his body behind, and creating an odd double. One broken version stood just above the body, looked around confused, and then turned to John. “Am I dead?” he asked plainly? There was a tremor in his voice, but overall not bad for the accident he had just been in.

“Yeah,” blurted John, unable to think of anything better.

“What a natural,” muttered a muscular requisition agent climbing into the remains of the bus.

“Oh dear,” stammered the priest, tears welling in his eyes. “But my work isn’t finished.” The priest’s voice rose slightly. “Surely the lord must know that?”

“Uh…” In his brief time among the departed, he hadn’t seen, or even heard any mention of God. Being an atheist in life, John hadn’t found it all that intriguing. He supposed that if there was an entire corporation surrounding death, then an almighty wasn’t that far-fetched.

“The Lord must be able to send me back,” pleaded the priest.

Come on John, think of something. “Look at your body,” he said, pointing to the crumpled heap still halfway through colliding with the semi-truck.

The priest winced. “Oh my, is that me?”

“Sure is,” replied John with a little too much cheer. Tone it down a bit. “So, I could put you back in there.” John wasn’t sure this was true, but the priest didn’t know either. “It would be excruciating, and you’d come out worse for it. Simply put, no medical miracle is going to pull you out of there.” The words started to flow more naturally as he continued.

The priest began to sweat profusely, even though his body no longer had need for the function. His eyes widened with understanding and terror. In that moment, John understood the magnitude of the power given in his new position. Tears flowed in rivers from the priest’s eyes. John had known plenty of decent lawyers who might have buckled at the site, but he had not been decent, and the priest’s tears were all too familiar.

John had seen similar grief before, in a church of all places. He doesn’t fear death. He fears judgment. There was a time when John’s family had been religious, but he only remembered one thing from it. It was the pastor’s wide eyes as he was dragged from the church for running an illegal gambling ring out of its basement. At the time, he was told to feel no sympathy, as the man’s actions had been against God, but from his newly eternal perch, the moral ambiguity was apparent. The blubbering priest kneeling before him now had the same wide-eyed expression.

Taking John’s pensive silence as quiet judgment, the priest began to shed his secrets like water. “I’ve confessed my sins!” he screamed, past bargaining and into desperation. “All the years of drinking, and the other…” he trailed off, “indiscretions. They were all foul temptations sent by The Devil himself. It was only a momentary step off his eternal path!”

John stopped listening and turned his attention to the others while the priest finished up his final sermon. A small group of youths walked out of the broken bus, led by the requisition agent who entered. The agent talked in hushed tones, keeping them calm, and trying to block the babbling priest from view.

John was about to turn and shut him up, when Naomi yelled: “Angels on the way! Everyone form up!”

 

Chadpocalypse 1:6 – Hell in a Diner

For those looking to catch up:

Parts 1-2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

1:6 Hell in a Diner

Mrs. B stared at him as if she wasn’t the ghostly specter of a woman that once was, impatiently tapping her pen on the order pad.

Chad could do nothing but stare back at her blankly.

“Just the coffee then for now?” she asked, weetly.

“Pardon,” started Chad, unsure of what to say, “but aren’t you dead?” Saying the words sent a fresh chill rushing down his spine. He desperately wished the diner hadn’t lost its liquor license years ago.

“Oh, straight to the point then, eh?” Mrs. B brushed herself off as if to look more presentable and sat down opposite him. There was no sound as she did so. An eerie, muffled silence had set over the diner, making it feel like something out of a dream.

Chad continued to stare, unsure of how to process the image before him. Does no one else see the dead woman sitting across from me? He looked around the diner and found that there was no one else there to notice.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” chimed Mrs. B politely. “We’re sort of in a frozen state right now. They can’t see us, and we can’t see them. I’ll pop you back proper when we’ve finished our talk.”

Chad’s head thrummed with the psychotic beat of his hangover. “Alright then,” he managed, wincing from pain, “but can I at least get a cup of coffee?”

“I think I that can be arranged.” She held out her hand in the direction of the coffee pot and it came zooming over to them.

“Right, if being dead means you get Jedi powers, I’m about to kill myself.”

“Don’t be silly,” she chided, pouring him a cup of the steaming hot liquid. “I’ve only got them on loan for the day. Higher beings decided they might come in handy, and they weren’t sure you’d be so receptive to the idea.”

“Receptive to what?” he blurted. “Dead women coming back to serve me breakfast?”

Mrs. B made an impatient clucking sound with her tongue. “No dearie, with the impending apocalypse and all.”

Chad froze in his chair. No way. There’s no way. “Apocalyp…”

Mrs. B cut him off, growing annoyed and checking the clock. “Yes Chad, now sober up and pay attention.” She pushed the cup of coffee toward him. “You’ll recall your meeting with the horseman last night, correct?”

“Well I was pretty far down the bottle…”

“Jesus Christ, the Devil sure knows how to pick them. Why oh why did it have to be you?” She sighed.

“Hey, I didn’t come here to get berated by the recently deceased for my life choices, poor as they may be.”

“No, you came here to fill your body with enough grease to sop up one of a thousand hangovers that was to be the rest of your life. Sound about right?” She raised an eyebrow.

Chad nodded.

“Right, well you’ve been given a chance to deviate from that path. How much do you remember of the horseman?”

Chad strained his mind, and saw flashing images of a molten lake of fire, and a pretentious equestrian in a polo shirt. “I remember he looked like a bit of a prick.”

Mrs. B rolled her eyes. “Well of course he was a bit of a prick. Being a herald of the apocalypse isn’t a job for a good Samaritan.”

“Fair point,” admitted Chad, and drank greedily from the coffee he had almost forgotten. The liquid cascaded down his throat and the tension behind his eyes began to ease.

“Now, I’ll explain this to you one time, and one time only.” Mrs. B looked at the clock again, nervously. “I don’t have much time. When the apocalypse comes, the horsemen are required to pick one mortal to pass the knowledge on to. This is supposed to be indicative of fair play between the regions beyond. So, to make it easy on themselves, they picked you, no offense.”

“Some taken,” muttered Chad.

“You’re going to have to show them that was a mistake,” she continued.

At the far end of the diner, Chad noticed a small crack beginning to open on the floor. Just your mind playing tricks on you, he thought. It wouldn’t be the first time a hangover had taken a turn for the hallucinogenic.

“But why…” Chad trailed off. The crack in the floor had continued to grow, and red light was streaming out of it.

Mrs. B turned to look behind her. “Oh shit. It looks like we have less time than I thought.”

The crack ripped open and fire spewed to the top of the diner.

“What in the holy hell is that?” exclaimed Chad, jumping onto the vinyl seat as if the floor were lava.

“Well, it’s Hell of course,” she spat. “They’re coming to take me back dearie.”

A massive, clawed hand reached out of the floor. Chad’s mouth dropped open.

“Ok, listen to me Chad. You need to find Nick Ventner. There’s no time to explain, just do it.”

“Mrs. B!” Chad yelled. “Look out behind you!” His heart thumped wildly in his chest and his senses cleared, forgetting the hangover that had dulled them moments earlier.

A black demon with massive, curling horns jumped out of the hole and onto the quickly crumbling tile floor. It’s eyes glowed red with hellfire and it expelled smoke with each heavy snort it made. “Mrs. B, pleasure to see you,” it grumbled, in a deep British accent. It cocked its head to one side and lunged forward.

“This is going to hurt,” moaned Mrs. B.

With one swift strike, the demon plunged its massive claw through her back, and out the front of her chest, spraying the diner with black, congealed blood.

“Holy shit!” Chad screamed.

“Don’t fuck this up,” whispered Mrs. B, and then fell limp.

“See you soon, Chad,” chuckled the demon, and then with the grace of an Olympic diver, twisted through the air diving back through the hole in the floor.

All at once, sound rushed back into the diner, and people popped up in every booth around him. Chad stood on the vinyl seat, mouth hanging open, clutching a breakfast menu. The blood was gone from his shirt, and there was no sign of the massive hell portal in the tiled floor.

“The usual, Chad?” asked a man standing just by his side.

Chad jumped, and slid into the corner of the booth.

“Jesus man, you alright?” the voice asked.

Chad turned to see George, holding an ordering pad, looking concerned, and expectant. “S-sorry,” Chad stammered.

“Another wild night?” George laughed.

“Yeah,” Chad said. “Something like that.” His stomach rumbled impatiently. “I think I’ll have the eggs benedict…”